Loyola-Chicago (9-3) at Valparaiso (10-4) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The defending Horizon League regular season champions will tip-off their conference slate as the Valparaiso Crusaders host the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Loyola was a pleasant surprise for its fans during the non-conference portion of the season. At 9-3, it has already won more games than it did all of last year. The Ramblers have been especially hot of late, winning seven of their last eight games, most recently going on the road last Saturday to take down DePaul, 69-61. Now in his second season at the helm of the program, coach Peter Moser has implemented a tough defensive mentality into his squad that had led to a puny 57.8 point per game average by its opposition. Loyola is scoring 63.9 ppg on 43.4 percent shooting from the floor to out duel its foes.
Bryce Drew's Crusaders are coming off a very big 66-64 road win over Murray State that improved their record to 10-4. The win was the third in a row for Valpo, which now returns home to the ARC where it is 7-0 with a 21-point average margin of victory. Valpo is also a very stingy team defensively as its foes have managed only 58.9 ppg on 40 percent shooting from the field.
Loyola and Valpo are meeting for the 48th time in a rivalry that dates back to 1922. The Ramblers own a dominant 33-14 edge in the all-time series, but the Crusaders have won the last six encounters.
The Ramblers limited an offensively capable DePaul unit their last time out to 61 points including a mere 2-of-10 mark on attempts from 3-point range. Loyola hit 48.1 percent of its field goal attempts to arrive at the eight-point win as Cully Payne provided a boost with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The junior guard had not scored in double-figures in four-straight games before his season-high outburst. Payne is the team's second leading scorer (8.5 ppg) and best distributor (54 assists). Senior forward Ben Averkamp has paved the road to success this season by tallying 15.7 points and 6.6 boards per contest. Averkamp has been quiet lately with only 10.3 points and six rebounds in his last three outings.
Valpo trailed the Racers by five points with 7:37 remaining on Saturday, but it scored nine consecutive points to jump in front and hand Murray State losses in back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. Although they committed 17 turnovers, the Crusaders managed to come out on top by riding reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff's team-high 18-point performance. Jordan Coleman came off the bench to score 10 points and Kevin Van Wijk brought down a game-high nine boards. Broekhoff is building a solid resume to repeat as MVP as he is producing 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest. South Florida transfer LaVonte Dority is making an instant impact by scoring 13.6 ppg in his first four games in a Crusaders uniform since becoming eligible to compete. Van Wijk also makes an impact with 13.1 points and 5.1 boards per contest.
Despite their clear progression since last season, the Ramblers will still be underdogs when they head to Indiana. Valpo is a much better team with Dority in the mix and it looks to be the favorite to win the league once again with its newly formed three-headed monster and defensive excellence.
GAME NOTES: The defending Horizon League regular season champions will tip-off
their conference slate as the Valparaiso Crusaders host the Loyola-Chicago
Ramblers at the Athletics-Recreation Center.Fact Stats
FACTS & STATS: Site: Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) -- Valparaiso,
Indiana. Television: None. Home Record: Loyola 5-0, Valpo 7-0. Away Record:
Loyola 3-2, Valpo 3-4. Neutral Record: Loyola 1-1, Valpo 0-0. Conference
Record: Loyola 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Series Record: Loyola-Chicago leads,33-14.Game Date and Time
Wednesday, January 2, 8:05 p.m. (et)Predicted Outcome
Valparaiso 71, Loyola-Chicago 62